Penguins in Australia you say? If you are anything like me, I would've cocked a sceptical eye and pointed you in the direction of the nearest map. But sure enough, the southern (and colder) part of Australia is home to several colonies of Little Penguins. Little Penguins are so dubbed because of their tiny size, about 33cm.
The fam spent a few days on Phillip Island, about a 90 minute drive south of Melbourne (next stop Antarctica). It's an amazing place that is home to many of the animals unique to Australia including the largest Little Penguin colony in the Southern Hemisphere, about 60,000. The State Park has taken advantage of people's natural affinity for all things cute and waddly and figured a way to squeeze $150 out of us to partake in the nightly "Penguin Parade". At least all the money goes into Penguin welfare.
Little Penguins are very industrious tiny tykes. They emerge from their sandy burrows along the Summerlands Peninsula before dawn and spend the day fishing the cold Southern Ocean before returning to their nests at sunset. So just before sundown, thousands of us (365 nights a year) scurried to our beach-side benches and sceptically awaited signs of the penguins' return. Sure enough right on-time, the first group emerged from the waves, looked around suspiciously for foxes, eagles or other predators, craned their little necks at us silly humans all agog, and waddled up the beach and far into dunes in all directions "huk huk'ing" at each other. More and more groups followed. It was in a word, magical!
We are not allowed to photograph the little fellas so as not to frighten them so I 'borrowed' the above pics from the official Phillip Island Penguin Parade web page.
And that was just our first night.
We spent the next couple of days at the Phillip Island Wildlife Park feeding free-range Kangaroos whose soft beautiful mouths and sweet little paws clutched our hands in search of the pellets we were carrying. Many of the mamas had joeys in their pouches. Did you know a group of Kangaroos were called "a mob"? Me neither!
A blue-winged Kookaburra
A large flock of emus stalked us searching for the food too. They were a little creepy with wild eyes and sharp beaks that practically pecked a hole in your hand as they leaned in for food. They also snuck up behind us quietly and peered over our shoulders in search of the treats making us jump in surprise more than once.
The free-range Wallabies were more shy that their larger brethren and appreared less social and 'mob'-like but were still happy to bashfully seek food from our eager hands.
There were some very unusual species at the Wildlife Park too:
A lovely fat Wombat
A spikey Echidna
A Cassowary, Australia's heaviest flightless bird. Looks like he has a rock formation growing on top of his head.
The Philip Island Koala Conservation Center is a natural habitat to 14 Koalas in 6 hectares of natural bushland. It was shocking to learn that even 6 hectares of Eucalyptus were inadequate to provide sufficient sustenance for that Koala population. The Center has to truck in additional supplies of Eucalyptus. It made clear how the greatest threat to a thriving population of indiginous species is a loss of natural habitat.
Koala sleep 20 hours a day in the crux of two branches high high in the tree canopy. This fellow was about 15 meters up a Gum tree.
Our hotel faced a pretty beach that even in the cooler winter temps beckoned us for walks, shell-collecting, rock-climbing, and opportunities to showcase C2s photography.
J's imitation of a Cassowary in the early morning fog.
The fog lifting off Cowes beach and Westernport Bay
We finished our mini holiday with a celebration birthday dinner for my mum at a beachside restaurant on the Island. It was the cherry on top!